Thunder Bay

International Women's Day flag raised at Thunder Bay city hall

People gathered at Thunder Bay’s city hall on Monday for the raising of the International Women’s Day flag, ahead of the annually celebrated day on March 8.

International Women's Day falls on Sunday March 8, 2020

Members of the community gather to raise the International Women's Day flag at Thunder Bay's city hall on Monday. (Olivia Levesque/CBC)

People gathered at Thunder Bay's city hall on Monday for the raising of the International Women's Day flag, ahead of the annually celebrated day on March 8.

Gwen O'Reilly, director of the Northwestern Ontario's Women's Centre, said International Women's Day is about celebrating the progress made thus far, but while also recognizing the work that needs to be done when it comes to women's rights and services. 

"There has been lots of progress and I'm very pleased to see these strong young women that I'm working with these days who understand racism, colonialism and intersectionality and all those things that we didn't understand all those years ago," she said. 

O'Reilly added that while she's seeing positive change, she is seeing an increase in issues that women have historically been faced with, such as gender-based violence. 

"There's a high level of violence in Thunder Bay and there's very few safe places for women to go," she said. "I'm a frontline worker, I see women in my centre everyday who are in desperate straits and there is no place to send them."

The raising of the International Women's Day flag was the first of several events taking place over the week in Thunder Bay. (Olivia Levesque/CBC )

Shelby Gagnon, an artist who works within the community of Thunder Bay, was asked to speak at the event hosted by the Northwestern Ontario's Women's Centre.

Gagnon spoke of her experience as an Indigenous woman living in the city of Thunder Bay, and the importance of acknowledging the issues faced specifically by Indigenous women as International Women's day approaches. 

"It's important for Indigenous women to find themselves, their identity, their spirit...and to talk about what is happening with our sisters all over the country with the missing and murdered Indigenous women and two spirit," she said in an interview with CBC.

Gagnon talked about the need for change and protection for Indigenous women in the community and beyond.

"I want to make a future that can be safe for my niece, she's a little Indigenous girl, she's darker skin..and I want her to be raised to be really powerful," said Gagnon while holding back tears. 

International Women's Day 'a call to action'

Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Superior North and Canada's Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, was also in attendance at the flag raising ceremony at city hall. 

Hajdu spoke at the gathering and expressed her delight in being able to celebrate the start of events taking place all week across the city in honour of International Women's Day.

"It's a great way to celebrate the work going on in the community, Gwen O'reilly of the women's centre has been a staunch advocate for women's rights for far long before it was common conversation and so it's great to stand with her and celebrate... but also keep our eyes focused on what needs to happen," she said. 

Hajdu echoed O'Reilly's sentiments about the importance of celebrating the work that has been done when it comes to gender equity, but added that there is a call to action that goes along with International Women's Day. 

"That's a call to action to everybody, whether it's at the citizen level or at the leadership level," she said. "There's things that we can do to be more intentional about how we ensure that women are included and support to achieve their full potential." 

The flag raising and proclamation made by Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro kick starts a week of International Women's Day events which are being hosted across the city.

On March 8, 2020 OPSEU Centre is hosting a pancake breakfast which will be followed by a solidarity march, which is set to begin at 12:00 p.m. at 326 Memorial Ave.